Many companies describe themselves as “customer-centric.” But what does that really mean? Even if companies focus their service energies on their customers to the highest possible level, what about other important audiences related to the business?
Consider all users
Sometimes we call them stakeholders or audience segments. But usually, segmentation is focused on customers, sometimes internal audiences or investors, etc. The rest of this post is about all the audiences, how they contribute to the growth of the business, and how organizations can create value by engaged in relationships with them. These include:
- Job candidates, job seekers or other talent
- Reporters and news outlets looking for content and subject experts
Seeking satisfaction or getting things done
People need ways to solve problems. In the context of today’s fast-pace of life / business, perhaps we’re faced with more problems than ever. People appreciate resources that can help them, are easy to use and let them get the job done and move on.
Arguably, usability is becoming the most important asset an organization can offer. Brands still have value, especially for associating expectations and experiences. Increasingly however, customers are not brand loyal and they will switch if they find better value. Companies have tremendous opportunities to keep their competitive edge (and earn their customers’ business) by providing better ways to get things done or satisfy needs.
Where will your next customer come from? Probably a user who is getting value from your company today. Organizations can maximize their exposure to potential customers by focusing on users, fostering relationships with all of those who participate or connect to the organization as part of its business ecosystem. That’s why the “Freemium” model has worked so well for Box.net, LinkedIn, Google and countless others. And it’s not just for software or consumer products.
A lofty vision
Businesses that attract attention are those that are onto something special, generating fresh thinking and new ideas, new ways to solve problems. It’s infectious and gets people get excited. So many users are looking for new ways to tackle problems or approach opportunity. Conversations surrounding big visions attract talent, vendors, partners as well as customers. Take a deep look inside to see what your organization stands, something bigger than the core business and services delivered.
Here’s an example: we are seeing the beginning of an exciting trend that is bringing together for-profit business with cause-driven programs or social responsibility initiatives. Customers are beginning to expect—even demand—that the companies from which they buy are committed to sustainable, responsible and ethical practices, and that they give back to the communities where they operate.
The death of sales
So many businesses have been built with aggressive selling models. The problem with sales is two-fold: it is founded on interruption; cold calling, pitching and presenting, all of which are forceful efforts to convince decision-makers to buy. The aggressive, manipulative selling process has created the protective buying behavior, absent of trust and designed to keep sales people at a distance, on a “need to know basis.” Secondly, the cost of sales is very high. Sales executives are often the most highly compensated individuals in a business, and they take a long time to reach peak productivity. Between these two, businesses often can’t afford sales. They must design better ways to grow the business.
The corruption of advertising
Advertising is in decline. There are daily reports of the downward trend of advertising ability to influence behavior (while media costs head ever-higher). The change is driven by the proliferation of media and increasing control consumers have over their media choices. It’s easy to ignore or skip paid interruptions, while pursuing useful solutions to problems or other interests.
And as with sales, resources invested in advertising are used once, then gone. They don’t help people solve problems or model how a company does business. Users never ask for more advertising or sales calls.
Running business on digital platforms is not an an option. Just as digital technology is crucial to operations, digital communications, tools and community gateways to are critical user touch points. This software can include websites, blogs and functionality and content they deliver. Content management software allows employees everywhere to contribute to managing content and user interaction without needing technical expertise. Mobile web and mobile applications put resources in the hands of users anywhere. And the ease of use, created by the user experience design is more critical than ever.
Social media is part of the digital link to a company’s users. Both B2B and B2B companies can make active use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, as well as blogs, discussion groups and other existing communities, to deliver utility and value to users.
Collaboration platforms like Basecamp, Google docs and Drop Box are ready-made digital environments that can enable interaction with suppliers, contractors, customers and the like. Businesses need to be cloud-enabled (yes, software as a service).
Organizations have an opportunity to turn all of the uncertainty, proliferation of choice (both for their users as well as for allocation of marketing investments) into delivery channels of value and connectedness to the people and organizations that make up their business ecosystem. Sound scary? It is for everyone—even many large companies haven’t figured it out. But if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and it would simply be required and expected. Here’s a checklist to help you organize what your company is likely already doing with it’s digital tools and content, to lean into this new era of providing value for all your users.
Functional marketing: 12 ways to create value in 2012
1. Lead with content, and your unique point of view.
- Become findable: Content is the foundation of search engine optimization (SEO), along with the technical tasks of SEO that optimize your site.
- Articulate your expert perspective. Share it. Engage with people about it.
- Curate industry resources. If your users understand your vision, passion and expertise, they’ll want to know what you’re reading and to whom you listen. Be a guide.
- Provide best practices. This is where many business managers and marketers balk. Give away our trade secrets? Yes! You must give away your strategic insights to some degree...without expecting anything in return. This showcases what you’re capable of doing.
- Educate with case studies and tips. Like best practices and thought leadership insights, use-cases and tips are giveaways of your IP in smaller, more tactical forms. Andy Crestodina and his firm Orbit Media are masters at giving tips. Sign up for their newsletter: you’ll enjoy it.
- Showcase customer and partner success, without putting your business in the spotlight.
2. Incorporate video. Well produced video is not only engaging, it can bring to life aspects of your content in more useful ways, with story telling and visual interest.
3. Find and connect with other organizations who share your vision for social responsibility or other virtue. Help them get their message out, to your user community. They will appreciate it, and reciprocate.
4. Help users solve problems. This might be the editorial strategy for your newsletter, tips and other content. Or it must be the company culture you foster, that empowers employees to help partners, job candidates, brand fans or past customers however they can...without getting paid. Create good will. What would Zappos do?
5. Support your partners. The more you can support your partners to be successful, the better chances for your business to be pulled along as well. Sit down, sort our things you can do that are your strengths and can help balance their weaknesses. Pick vibrant partners, then help them shine even more brightly. The halo creates value for everyone.
6. Go mobile. Use of mobile devices for search, social media and purchases is growing fast as technology catches up with expectations for how and where users want to get things done. If your company website isn’t a mobile site, incorporate that spec into your next site redesign. WordPress has modules that optimize websites to iPads and mobile devices.
7. Integrate your operational data systems with your account service and marketing systems. One example: Distributors have an opportunity put inventory and account data in the hands of field sales / account reps. The integration of data could call for a considerable budget. But be assured your competitors are already doing it. Nothing creates value like information in the hands of the rep while on-premise with customers, figuring out what they need and how quickly they can get it.
8. Use digital collaboration tools to enable your teams, beginning with Basecamp, Box.net, Drop Box. Google Docs and iCloud. Experiment to find what works for your culture. Develop standards and teach your people. Everyone must be on board.
9. Enable your entire organization to manage the content and user interaction on your website and blog with a content management system (CMS). WordPress and Expression Engine are well-established, modular CMS platforms. Drupal, Joomla and Episerver are more powerful and scalable platforms.
10. Connect to your users through the the big communities: Use Facebook for business, LinkedIn and Twitter and YouTube to build your networks and extend your valuable content. If you’re not there yet, as a company or key individuals, start now and form your editorial social media policies as you go.
11. Reallocate budget dollars. By now you’ve guessed at where budget and resources for the above should come from: other lines in the specifically advertising and sales. Study the investments in each, and see what your returns have been, and if they are trending up or down.
12. Don’t take it on all at ounce. And don’t wait until the master plan is perfect. Design, build, and replace as you evolve. Create an integrated web of technologies, content and interaction. Work on multiple levels and across multiple channels. And start by building on things you are already doing.